Walter Richard Sickert A.R.A. (British, 1860-1942) Outside the Frari, Venice  76.3 x 63.9 cm. (30 1/8 x 25 1/8 in.)
Lot 43*
Walter Richard Sickert A.R.A.
(British, 1860-1942)
Outside the Frari, Venice 76.3 x 63.9 cm. (30 1/8 x 25 1/8 in.)
£40,000 - 60,000
US$ 68,000 - 100,000
Lot Details
Walter Richard Sickert A.R.A. (British, 1860-1942)
Outside the Frari, Venice
signed 'Sickert' (lower centre)
oil on canvas
76.3 x 63.9 cm. (30 1/8 x 25 1/8 in.)
Painted in the late 1930s

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Dr. Robert Emmons
    His sale; 1 June 1956, lot 124
    Wolf Mankowitz
    Lawrence Harvey
    Michael Parkin, 1974
    Sale; Sotheby's, London, 2 November 1983, lot 34
    Private Collection, Asia

    Exhibited
    London, The Leicester Galleries, Paintings and Drawings by W.R. Sickert from the Collection of Dr Robert Emmons, May-June 1950, cat.no.21

    Literature
    Wendy Baron, Sickert, Paintings and Drawings, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006, p.559, cat.no.774 (ill.b&w)

    Sickert, ever inventive and experimental, turned his lifelong approach to painting on its head during his final ten years as an artist. Beginning with his friendship with Degas during the mid 1880s, he had spent a lifetime painting from drawings - and urgently advocating the practice. However, after 1927 his reliance on drawing decreased as his delight in secondary sources increased. Newspaper photographs were the basis of his striking life-size portraits; publicity photographs and cinema stills the basis of his powerful, often close-up, cinema and theatre paintings; snapshots taken by his third wife, Thérèse Lessore, the basis of his 1930s landscapes in Thanet and Bath; black-and-white woodcuts and engravings by his favourite Victorian illustrators the basis of his colourful 'Echoes'.

    Occasionally engravings by earlier masters caught his eye. A notable example is his painting Lucretia of 1932-3 (Baron 2006, cat.no.639), inscribed 'After Palma', taken directly from an early 18th century etching by Bernard Picart after a Rape of Lucretia by the Venetian painter Palma il Giovane (1544-1628). Outside the Frari can now be identified as derived from a late 18th century engraving, Veduta del Campo detto de' Frari (Fig.1, Impression in British Museum, 1878.1214.641) by Andrea Zucchi after Giuseppe Valeriani (c.1720-1762, draughtsman and painter who worked in Venice and St Petersburg), published in Venice by Teodoro Viero.

    A key quality of Sickert's late work is his intense concentration on design. This is more easily appreciated when we can see exactly how he manipulated his source image. Just as he used cropping to great effect in his full-length portraits, reducing the original context to a mere cipher and bringing the subject right up to the surface of his canvas, so he has radically cropped Zucchi's image, taking off a little at the top, more on the right (two bays of the flanking building) and about a third of the total on the left (excising much of the campo beside the campanile). By honing in on a tighter area, the sense of bustle and the impact of the monumental architecture which dwarfs the figures are hugely reinforced. The lively incidents are all imported from the engraving. They include in the foreground a man in a wheelchair being pushed from the back and towed by a man with a rope in the front, women selling vegetables or fruit from baskets on the bridge, a dog sniffing another in the right foreground, and in the middle ground a man in a boat being helped ashore while behind them another man walks gracefully while balancing a filled sack on his head. The visible squaring-up, used to facilitate the transfer from the engraving to a much larger canvas, strengthens rather than detracts from the monumental design.

    Venice meant much to Sickert. He lived and painted there in 1895, 1896, 1900, 1901 and 1903-4. One wife left him in Venice and he (unsuccessfully) wooed another. He not only painted its great and lesser sites, but first developed his characteristic interiors with figures there, posing local prostitutes in his rooms at Calle dei Frati. His command of Italian - and the Venetian dialect - was fluent. He visited the city for the last time in December 1929, perhaps in advance of the one-man showing of his work in the British Section at the Biennale in 1930 (he had shown a few works at the Venice Biennale in 1903 and 1912, and was to show a few more in 1932 and 1936). It is safe to assume that the print from which he derived Outside the Frari was his own and had been bought in Venice.

    Robert Emmons, this painting's first owner, Sickert's first biographer and one-time pupil, cited its date (when it was sold in 1950) as 1939. It is indeed exceptionally close in style, handing and presentation to Temple Bar (Baron 2006, cat.no.680), painted circa 1940 from an engraving owned by Sickert and said by Helen Lessore, the artist's sister-in-law as well as his dealer at the Beaux Arts Gallery, to be Sickert's last painting. She compared Temple Bar to a very late Titian, a comparison which also holds good for Outside the Frari. The freedom with which the paint has been applied as an interwoven pattern of broad brushmarks on a coarsely-woven canvas, the dominance of ochres with flickering creamy highlights, above all Sickert's sheer energy and creativeness are indeed Titianesque.

    When Sickert was painting the façade of the Franciscan basilica, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, he could not have failed to remember it is dedicated to the Assumption and houses, over the high altar, Titian's early masterpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin. The Frari, begun circa 1330 was not finished until over a century later; its campanile (seen in the background on the left of Sickert's painting) is the second tallest in Venice. The stepped footbridge in Zucchi's engraving and in Sickert's painting is open at the sides, without the balustrade added, presumably for safety, certainly not for aesthetic, reasons in more modern times.

    Outside the Frari has had a distinguished provenance, including actor Lawrence Harvey and playwright Wolf Mankowitz. They may well have been attracted not only by the sheer beauty of its colour and texture and brushwork, but also by its dramatic qualities: it is not hard to see it as a set for The Merchant of Venice. It is testimony to Sickert's unflagging sense of adventure when painting.

    We are grateful to Dr. Wendy Baron for compiling this catalogue entry.
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